I recently began re-watching all of Sam Darnold’s throws from the 2018 season, going game-by-game charting his production by route type.
In addition, I’ve broken down his numbers based on a few different factors, including field side, number of rushers, and throw depth. I also decided to track the frequency of select notable occurrences, such as a tally of Darnold’s total “improvised” production (a revered staple of his), and a count of drops, among other things.
Previously, I ran through a few of the most notable statistical tidbits I found from tracking Darnold in his first two games, against the Lions and Dolphins. Today we’ll move on to his third and fourth games, a pair of road battles against the Browns and Jaguars.
Before we start diving in, here is a look at the collection of route types I’ve been tracking.
Obviously, there is a seemingly infinite number of complex route concepts that could not possibly fit in that picture. I went with a simplified collection of 15 route types. I thought this lineup was perfect for having enough variety to capture every throw while not going overboard with specificity.
It’s sometimes difficult to tell exactly what route a receiver is trying to run. Other times, there will be instances where a receiver will run a more complex route that features combination of a few routes seen above, such as an out-and-up or slant-and-go among others. I assigned route types based on the nature of the throw for Darnold. Whichever route type best matched the angle, depth, and essence of the throw Darnold had to make, would be the one I’d go with.
Let’s take a look at some of the numbers behind Darnold’s rough visits to the northeastern corners of two states — Ohio and Florida.
Browns 21, Jets 17. Darnold: 15 for 31, 169 yards, 0 touchdowns, 2 interceptions
- This was a tough one for the rookie, his first truly bad performance in the NFL. Darnold’s 38.2 passer rating in the Cleveland game ended up as his third-worst mark of the season, but in a lot of ways he was lucky to post a rating even that high. Of Darnold’s 169 passing yards in that game, a whopping 104 of them, or about 62%, came after the catch (league average hovers around 50/50). He only threw for 65 yards through the air on that now-famous night.
- Of Darnold’s 10 first down completions, half of them were screen passes. If you removed Darnold’s screen game production in that contest (6 for 8, 63 yards), he completed only 9 of 23 passes for 106 yards on all other passes.
- Even though the Jets carried a lead into halftime, Darnold was particularly poor in the first half. Prior to halftime, Darnold completed just 5 of 12 passes for 45 yards and three first downs. Those numbers are already terrible, but they’re even worse when you consider that all three of the first downs were screen passes. Darnold threw for -12 yards through the air in the first half, with 57 yards coming after the catch. He only completed one pass beyond the line of scrimmage, which traveled a grand total of one yard downfield.
- Darnold was a bit better in the second half, going 10 of 19 for 124 yards, 77 of those through the air. However, a lot of that production was racked up with the Browns playing very soft defense late in the fourth quarter.
- The Browns played primarily zone coverages throughout the game (22 of Darnold’s passes were against zone), but Gregg Williams’ defense was particularly successful in the few situations where Darnold threw against man coverage. Darnold completed 3 of 7 passes for 13 yards against man defense.
Jaguars 31, Jets 12. Darnold: 17 for 34, 167 yards, 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions
- Darnold’s performance in Jacksonville was about as volatile as it gets. He made some brutal mistakes, but there were occasional flashes of brilliance. It wasn’t quite as bad an outing for Darnold as the Browns game, but ultimately it was not an afternoon to remember save for a select few plays.
- We’ll start with the bad. Darnold did finish this game with zero interceptions in the box score, raising his passer rating to 74.0 and masking the fact that he only threw for 4.9 yards per attempt, a terrible mark. However, Darnold has to thank the football gods for the egg they laid for him in the interception column. Darnold threw one interception that was canceled out by a defensive penalty, and on two other occasions was lucky that a defender dropped a potential pick that hit them square between the numbers. Things could have gotten a lot uglier.
- More positively, Darnold was just inches away from a bunch of huge plays in this game. He had two 30+ yard completions for a combined 72 yards wiped away by penalties (consider this the price that the football gods demanded for the interceptions they prevented).
- There were a trio of downfield bombs that Darnold just barely missed on — a 20+ yard wheel route to Bilal Powell, a 25+ yard crossing route to Quincy Enunwa (which hit two hands, but Darnold underthrew the ball forcing Enunwa to contort), and a 50+ yard bomb on a post to Robby Anderson.
- Darnold was uber-aggressive in this game, but due to the near misses listed above, he did not get much out of the shots he took. Throwaways excluded, Darnold’s average attempt distance in the Jaguars game was a monumental 10.0 yards, the highest mark I’ve tagged him with through four games thus far. However, the average distance of his completed passes was a much more pedestrian 4.7 yards.
- Darnold attempted five 20+ yard passes in this game, with all five attempts falling incomplete. It’s the second time he’s gone 0 for 5 on 20+ yard throws so far, along with the Week 2 Dolphins game (although in that game Darnold suffered from two drops on 20+ yard throws).
- After attempting only four post routes through the first three games, I counted five attempted post routes for Darnold against the Jaguars. He only completed two of them, one a touchdown to Jordan Leggett and the other a 16-yard gain to Quincy Enunwa.
- Darnold averaged 5.7 attempted screen passes per game over the first three weeks, but only tried two screens against the Jaguars. Neither resulted in a first down, and they combined for just five yards.
- The Jaguars forced Darnold into four throwaways. I had tagged Darnold with only two throwaways over the first three games combined.
- Through four games, Darnold had already completed four passes on “improvised” plays, for four first downs and 85 yards. Chris Herndon and Quincy Enunwa each caught two first down receptions on improvised routes off of Darnold scrambles.
Here’s a look at Darnold’s route type breakdown through his first four games of 2018.